#ElonTBT: WSOE hosts first broadcast in 1977

In this edition of #ElonTBT, we examine college radio station WSOE's history on the airwaves, with broadcasts dating back to the 1970s.

In the #ElonTBT series, the Elon University News Bureau, along with Archives & Special Collections, will flash back to the past to take a look at Elon over the years. You will find videos, newspaper clippings, photos and more to celebrate Elon’s past, while looking ahead to the future. Follow along on Today at Elon and the university’s TwitterFacebook and Instagram pages every Thursday to see what we dig up.

College radio station WSOE fills today’s local airwaves with music, discussions and entertainment on FM 89.3, and the station’s influence at Elon dates back to the 1970s.

In 1975, Elon’s Student Communications Media Board approved plans for an FM radio station on campus and filed for a Federal Communications Commission license for the station, which would reach listeners within a two-mile radius of Elon. However, the group faced several “setbacks and delays” along the way, according to an article in the Oct. 6, 1977, edition of the Pendulum student newspaper.

The front page of the Oct. 6, 1977, Pendulum student newspaper details the first WSOE broadcasts.

“According to [station manager Bill] Zint, the station’s call letters came on the 21st attempt to get call letters approval from the licensing department of the Federal Communications Commission. The first 20 attempts duplicated the letters of existing stations,” the article stated.

That 21st attempt established the call letters WSOE, which would come to stand for “Wonderful Sounds of Elon.”

But, the call letters were just the beginning. The Pendulum also reported issues with the radio tower’s installation, a bad transmitter and high frequency fees as other setbacks for the station.

Despite all those obstacles, WSOE went on air for the first time in 1977, broadcasting a test program on Sept. 29 and the first full broadcast on Oct. 6.

WSOE would later be forced to expand after the FCC announced new standards, requiring public radio to operate 12 hours per day, 365 days a year. So WSOE applied to become a 500-watt station that could reach a 25-mile radius, purchased new transmitting equipment and paid the necessary expenses to expand its broadcasting hours.

Faculty advisor Gerald Gibson works in the WSOE control room in 1982.

Since then, WSOE has showcased jazz, classical and pop music, along with discussions, educational programming and radio dramas for the campus community. Providing Elon with a reliable source of information and entertainment on the radio has been WSOE’s goal from the beginning.

“Effective communication is a primary need between students and their own [Student Government Association], between students and administration, and between college and community,” said station adviser Anne Ponder in the 1977 Pendulum article. “Because the student management is dedicated to the idea of constructive and responsible broadcasting, WSOE may be the greatest possibility in the recent development of the college.”

In this 1995 video, by Elon Student Television’s “Elon Current Events,” WSOE station manager Doc Siddal discusses the station’s purpose on campus.

In 2018, WSOE hosted a reunion to celebrate its 40th anniversary, inviting former general managers and staff members, as well as current students and station DJs. The group honored the history of the station and listened to an alumni panel, which focused on WSOE’s impacts in the lives and careers of those involved with the station over the years. The group included Atlantic Records executive Tom Mullen ’00, who said, “WSOE is the reason I am in the music industry.”

As part of WSOE’s 40th anniversary ceremony, adviser Bryan Baker (right) presented Gerald Gibson (left) with an Award of Excellence in advising and mentorship.

The reunion also celebrated Assistant Professor Gerald Gibson, who retired in 2018. During the event, Director of Technology, Operations and Multimedia Projects Bryan Baker presented Gibson with an Award of Excellence in advising and mentorship for helping to lead WSOE since 1979.

Members of the original Elon College Amateur Radio Club in 1949.

But, if you look back about 30 more years into the past, you’ll find the very beginning of college radio at Elon. In 1949, the Elon College Amateur Radio Club hosted its first meeting, which saw 11 “radio fans” come together to introduce radio at Elon. That same year, the club applied for an FCC license to build an amateur radio station. The Radio Club later acquired two transmitters, which were missing parts and required students to rebuild them before going on the air.

Thanks to the Radio Club and WSOE’s dedication, the Elon community still has a source for engaging college radio 70 years later.

Do you have any special pieces of Elon history? Share your photos and videos with us via email at news@elon.edu or using the hashtag #ElonTBT on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.